Mentoring is something I didn't plan on doing. It started with people reaching out to ask about my boot camp experience and how I navigated finding my first software developer job after graduating. The first few meetings, I wasn't sure what I would talk about, but showed up prepared to answer questions honestly and share my knowledge. Over time, I developed some ongoing mentor relationships with people, and found myself very invested in their success. Some have gone on to get that first job in the tech industry and seeing that happen has been so incredible!
I don't pretend to have all the answers. Everyone has a different experience, but I found that sharing my experiences and what I've learned can help others be more informed as they journey through similar situations. Especially for those who, like me, may have unique experiences based on their gender, race, ethnicity, educational background, or as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.
As part of my volunteer work with Out in Tech, I interviewed mentee candidates for the Out in Tech U Mentorship Program. This was a very rewarding experience, and gave me some insights into the qualities of an effective mentoring partnership with productive sessions. It helped me to hone how I approach mentoring sessions as a mentor and a mentee.
Mentoring doesn't have to be formal to be helpful, either. Whether it be with an official mentor, a manager, someone from a community like Women Who Code, or someone who has just offered to chat, here are some tips for making the most out of your time with a mentor and having an effective, productive session.
Have a specific goal
Whether it's a one-time session or an ongoing relationship, you should have specific, written goals for what you want to accomplish with that time.
Some examples are:
- What type of roles make sense for me?
- What should I study or what skills should I develop to get a certain role?
- How can I get better at interviews?
- How can I start off right at my new job?
- How do I handle asking for help at my job?
- How can I network to find opportunities?
- How can I improve my portfolio, resume, projects, or LinkedIn and GitHub profiles?
Understand your mentor's strengths
Research your mentor and understand what their skills and experiences are so you can best leverage their expertise. It wouldn't necessarily make sense to ask a UX designer about technical coding challenges, or a network engineer about CSS resources. On the other hand, knowing someone has a similar education background (both boot camp grads, for example) can be helpful for getting advice specific to your own situation.
- Technical stack, such as languages, tools, and frameworks
- Knowledge areas like development, product, UX, devops, testing, etc.
- Professional experience and stage in their career
- Overlapping demographic experiences
This is valuable time for you and the mentor!
Come prepared with the following:
- A written goal to accomplish within the meeting
- A list of questions
- Any relevant links, projects, or documents, and/or send them in advance
- Be ready to take notes
Hold the sessions accountable
Toward the end of the session and after it's completed, take some time to review the discussion and understand whether it was effective and how to best move forward. It's also important to evaluate whether there is a good fit to continue with future sessions.
Reflect on the following:
- Did you accomplish your goal? If not, why?
- What is your action plan or next steps?
- Does this mentor relationship make sense for both people?
Ultimately, it is the shared responsibility of the mentor and mentee to ensure a positive, productive relationship. Knowing what you want out of that relationship and how to make the most out of your time together is critical to fostering a good mentorship experience. Good luck with your session, and let me know what worked well for you!